Monday, March 24, 2014

Egypt: Mass Trials Against Muslim Brotherhood Result in 529 Death Sentences, Future Bleak

According to The Associated Press, a court in Egypt on Monday (March 24) sentenced to death 529 supporters of ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi on charges of murdering a policeman and attacking police, convicting them after only two sessions in one of the largest mass trials anywhere in decades.

The verdicts are subject to appeal and are likely be reversed, yet the swiftness and harshness of the rulings on such a large scale underlined the extent to which Egyptian courts have been politicized and due process ignored since the military removed Morsi in July 2013.

The first of the trial's two sessions in a court in the city of Minya, south of Cairo, saw furious arguments as the judge angrily rejected requests by defense lawyers for more time to let them review the trial documents for the hundreds of defendants.

All but around 150 of the defendants in the case were tried in absentia by the court. The judges acquitted only 16 defendants.

COMMENT: The 545 defendants in the case were charged with murder, attempted murder and stealing government weapons in connection with an attack on a police station in August 2013 in the town of Matay in Minya province. 

One police officer was killed in the attack. The violence was part of rioting around the country sparked when security forces stormed two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo, killing hundreds of people on August 14.

During the first session on Saturday (March 22), defense attorney Khaled el-Koumi said that he and other lawyers asked the presiding judge, Said Youssef, to postpone the case to give them time to review the hundreds of documents in the case, but their request was denied.

When another lawyer made a request, the judge interrupted and refused to recognize it. When the lawyers protested, Youssef shouted that they would not dictate what he should do and ordered court security to step in between him and the attorneys.

"We didn't have the chance to say a word, to look at more than 3,000 pages of investigation and to see what evidence they are talking about," el-Koumi, who was representing ten of the defendants,  he told AP.

He said he believed the verdicts were timed to send a message to an Arab League summit that begins Tuesday (March 25) in Kuwait, where Egypt is pressing other Arab governments to ban the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.

On Tuesday, another mass trial against Morsi's supporters opens in a Minya court with 683 suspects facing similar charges. The defendants in that case include Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, who also is being charged in other proceedings.

As most of our readers know, Egyptian Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi, who has been Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces since August 2012, is seriously considering running as a candidate for President in the forthcoming election.

Of course, it was el-Sisi who overthrew Morsi in July 2013.

According to http://www.aljazeera.com, Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour has signed into law a bill aimed at regulating the upcoming April 2014 presidential election, paving the way for army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to not only run, but very likely win in any election.

Obviously, it looks really bad for el-Sisi to run as president in a vacancy he actually created. Yet, that is today's Egypt!

Interestingly, el-Sisi, 59, said on his Facebook Page that he was not prepared to "ignore the desire" of the Egyptian people.

In January thousands of Sisi's supporters rallied across Egypt calling on him to run and the military itself has said it would back his decision to enter the election. Of course, he runs the military.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which boycotted the referendum, says it remains committed to peacefully resisting what it calls a military coup against a democratically elected leader.

We will never know how democratic Morsi's election as president actually was, as both former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama stood silently by and allowed the only person that kept Egypt stable for roughly 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, to be deposed.

In the interest of transparency, I am no apologist for Hosni Mubarak, but he was one of the leaders of an Arabic country that was very much allied with the West and went to great lengths to neutralize transnational terrorism.

A group of 27 countries from the United Nations Human Rights Council expressed concerns over the Egyptian government's use of violence in its wide-scale crackdown on opposition protesters, the first such reprimand from the international body since a bloody crackdown on dissent in the country began.

Considering that the United Nations Human Rights Council has 47 members, it is interesting to note that only 27 members of the Council expressed concern over contemporary violence in Egypt:

To see a list of the 47 members, see:

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/CurrentMembers

The Brotherhood has also faced a backlash from Saudi Arabia, the latter of whom has designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, a move that an Egyptian government spokesman said Cairo welcomed.

If Field Marshal el-Sisi runs for president he is very likely to win handily, particularly considering he has the military's support.

It is impossible to predict what the Field Marshal's presidency would look like, yet it is not expected to sit well with those who support liberty, freedom, rule of law and an equitable approach to governance.

Which brings me around to the topic of tourism. 

As I said in my posting of March 23, 2014, entitled "Egypt: Hotel Security Guard Rapes British Tourist at Five-Star Hotel in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt's Future," strangely, Egyptian authorities have carefully not released the number of foreign tourists who visited the country in 2013.

Very likely because the news is not encouraging.

For all of those tour operators that cannot wait to nudge foreign travelers back into Egypt, please keep in mind that the country is currently just as unpredictable and perilous as it was in July 2013. 

In some ways, perhaps more, given the headline of this posting.